Before the Tragedy: The Work We Must Do with Children Right Now

Dear Sweet friend,

How do you make sense of a senseless act?

When 17 people, students and staff, are killed in and around their school, a place typically regarded as a safe haven for those who attend, how can we explain it to children? How do we explain it to ourselves?

I’ve written several articles on how to talk to kids when bad things happen (like here and here). But we’ve gotten to a point when there is much more to the discussion that dealing with the aftermath, don’t you think? I would imagine you would agree, we need to turn our attention to what’s going on with our children these days that is laying the groundwork for such tragedies to occur.

We need to turn our attention to what’s going on with our #children these days that is laying the groundwork for such tragedies to occur. #ParklandSchoolShooting Click To Tweet
  • Mental Instability and the need for help: It’s easy for people to point to a killer and simply say, “he is mentally disturbed.” And yes, there are clearly mental issues happening here–chemical imbalances that need to be addressed. But what does this really tell us? What we need to take in is the fact that many people who have mental issues were once children or teens who needed help. Perhaps they needed counseling, medication or more. This is not something people can wish away- mental illness must be considered and treated appropriately when we see it.
  • Lack of empathy: I interviewed internationally adored, educational psychologist, Dr. Michele Borba, for my most recent podcast and she talks a great deal about the lack of empathy as a precursor for future violence. When we can’t put ourselves in someone else’s position and feel how they feel in that moment, our behavior can become cruel and unfeeling. What does this tell us? It says that we must make working on empathy and other key powerful words with children a priority. Helping children identify their own feelings, read the faces and body language of others, predict future actions based on their behaviors and repair damage done is vital. We can’t only attend to academics. Character and whole-heartedness must be on our daily agenda too.
  • Isolation and a need for a mentor: When I present to parents, educators or other adults who work with children, I often talk about the youth development research. One sobering statistic from a study done with Search Institute said that the majority of young people feel that they don’t have at least 3 adults to turn to in a time of need or challenge. What’s more is that many young people don’t feel that adults understand them or that adults can give them bad advice or leave them scrambling on their own when the advice doesn’t work. We need to help make things better, not worse. What does this tell us? It means that young people need us. They need us to take an interest, to listen, if asked for- they might need advice, but ultimately, they need someone to care for the long haul. Let’s be one of the three.
  • Seen for their faults: In today’s society, people often feel scrutinized for how they don’t measure up. They “compare and despair” as my podcast guest, Debbie Reber said, which can only serve to make them feel like they can never be enough. One of the issues I often discuss in my presentation Be a Strength Finder, Not a Fault Finder is that often our labels (whether self-imposed or given by others) can define us and lock us into a negative state of being. “I am ugly…I am lazy…I am stupid…I am a bad kid…I will never amount to anything” – these become repeated mantras that don’t only play with our minds but guide our actions. They become self-fulfilling prophecies. So what does this tell us? It says that while we need to provide guidance and corrections for our children, we also must illuminate their strengths. We need to tell them of the gifts we see in them and in others—and hold a mirror up to them so that they can see themselves for what they bring to the table. When we lead with strengths, they guide us forward. When we lead with faults, they hold us back.
When we lead with strengths, they guide us forward. When we lead with faults, they hold us back. Click To Tweet

We are shocked, or tragically, perhaps not as shocked now, when school shootings occur. In the moment, it is so jarring and we feel like there is nothing we can do. Thoughts and prayers are lovely but they don’t address the issues. The actions we must take are ones that happen in the years before the shooting. And that means, let’s start on it now.

  • Get children mental help when they need it.
  • Do social skills training with kids who are lacking in empathy.
  • Be a mentor or help find a mentor for children who can use some guidance.
  • See children for their strengths, not simply for what they lack.

These are small things that make a big difference. And lord knows, we need a difference right now.

Xoxo

Confidence Building in Parenting: How to Let Go So Your Children Can Soar

Hello Sweet friend,

I hope you are doing well on this last day of January! It’s amazing how time flies by—we are already 1/12 of the way through the year!

So the other day, I took my family roller-skating at the same roller rink I used to go to as a kid. Other than being full of nostalgia as the same disco ball hung from the middle of the ceiling and remnants of the light up board that used to direct us to “all skate” or “couples only,” I was also a little bit anxious. This was my son’s first time roller skating and he can sometimes have an ugly tape inside his head telling him he can’t do something even before he starts. Do you have anyone in your life that gets that?

He asked me to go out on the floor with him so he could hold my hand. As a parent, this can get a bit dicey. You want your child to feel comfortable but not reliant. We don’t want to feed the “I can’t” monster or the “only if you help me” monster. We went out onto the floor together, and we held hands. I held his and he held mine. As he got his bearings, we went very slow so I was sure he was moving his own feet and I wasn’t pulling him along. After a few times around, I let him hold my hand but I wasn’t actively holding his. Then we progressed to him only holding my finger, using his own balance and momentum to take the lead and pull me along a little. So when the moment came when my daughter said; “You’re doing great Noah, now all you have to do is let go!” He did. And off he went. Shaky at times but completely on his own.

It can be hard to let go. But even before that, it can be hard to slowly transition from taking the lead to allowing your child to do so. And yet, this is one of the key ways that they gain confidence. Self-reliance and taking healthy risks allow a child to learn to trust him or herself. To get up when they fall. And they will. And though it’s hard, we will grin and bear it as they gain the grit to bear it themselves.

I love exploring how to gain confidence and when I keynote on this topic, talk about the many barriers that get in our way and how we can push through. We want every child to lead their life knowing; “I am capable, I can do it and I will do it.” Don’t you agree?

For more on this topic, I have three recommendations.

1. My newest podcast episode on How to Talk to Kids about Anything is with Sue Atkins where we talk about how to raise confident, happy, resilient children. Sue has such a warm and welcoming way about herself- and lots of hands-on tips.
2. One of my most popular podcasts is on “The Gift of Failure” with Jessica Lahey. She talks at length about how we step back and allow our child to take the lead even though s/he may falter. After all, this is how they learn to succeed.
3. For those raising girls or working with girls, a recent podcast with Katie Hurley, author of the just-released No More Mean Girls (wonderful reviews and tools- recommended!), details how we can raise strong, confident, compassionate girls that defy the mean culture we hear about so often.

Can we raise children who are confident and resilient? I think we can. But as Sue Atkins says on yesterday’s podcast; “Confidence is an inside job.” Our children need to develop confidence from what they do rather than what we do for them.

Looking forward to hearing what you think! Come up on Facebook or I’m now on Instagram–> Let’s chat!

Wishing you a great week, sweet friend.

Warmest regards,
Dr. Robyn

Parents: How Do We Talk to Kids about Fairness?

Do you hear “that’s not fair!” a lot in your home or school? Many children believe that “fair” means “the same.” But often, “the same” is not fair at all. If you can imagine a bunch of different people, all with different needs, wants and interests- we’d never think that we should give them all exactly the same thing! Dividing up the pizza, time, help, snacks or privileges in equal-sized packages, quite simply, does not often make sense. Of course, other times, people should receive “the same” and that is, indeed, the most fair situation.

Fairness is the “Powerful Word of the Month” for Powerful Words this month and is also the topic for my US News & World Report article and infographics for October.

Ask your children what they think of fairness and come up with scenarios the illustrate when fairness means “the same” and when it means “different.” Here are some of the questions you can explore:

(1) When does fairness mean “the same?”

(2) When does fair mean that everyone should get a “different” amount?

(3) What do yo9u do or say when you see unfair things happen to other people?

(4) What are some of the rules at home that ensures fairness?

(5) What happens to fairness when someone doesn’t follow the rules?

Also, explore some of these talking points I discuss in my US News & World Report article this month:

Talking point No. 1: Discuss people’s varying needs, since fairness is often based on what each person needs to be successful and healthy.

Talking point No. 2: Explain that fairness is sometimes based on desire and interest. Everyone likes different activities, foods, games, colors and books.

Talking point No. 3: Have a conversation about merit, hard work and perseverance. We want to send the message that people who put in the most time and effort often get the largest share.

Talking point No. 4: Talk about fairness and appropriateness. Let your child know that depending on a person’s age, experience and ability, what’s fair may change.

Talking point No. 5: Life, unfortunately, isn’t always fair.

In a quiet moment, talk about what you think is really unfair in life, whether it’s people who are suffering – like a friend who has lost her parent to cancer – or kids who are homeless, or it’s societal inequalities that make life difficult for certain groups of people. This will provide some perspective for your children, while you ask them to take a walk in another person’s shoes. They may even want to find ways to be able to help those in need!

I discuss these fairness talking points in Ask Dr. Robyn this month:

Come up on Facebook or Twitter and let’s discuss it!

Warm regards,

 

 

How to Talk to Kids about the Las Vegas Shooting

After the terrible shooting on Sunday, October 2nd, that took place in Las Vegas killing 59 and injuring more that 500 people, parents are left wondering what to say to their children about the Las Vegas shooting. Let’s acknowledge that it’s becoming less rare to wake up to bad news lately- hurricanes, earthquakes and this senseless shooting makes us wonder when the loss of life and destruction is going to end. I get that. Our children are starting to get hear bits and pieces about these tragedies and those who haven’t will likely hear about them in time. So what do we do or say when tragedy strikes?

Resources:

  • I was interviewed for Morning Dose TV on this topic yesterday- right here.
  • Since I wrote something that is fitting when the Barcelona shooting happened– giving both tips and scripts, I’d like to give that to you now, again.
  • On my podcast, Joe Primo and I discussed How to Talk to Kids about Death & Dying if answers around grieving and death are in need.

And just a few quick words on talking to kids when tragedy strikes:

  • Be the first source– let them hear it from you. News sources are abrupt and made for adult audiences- you know best how to talk to your kids. Tell them; “I am here to answer your questions, there is nothing you can’t ask me. I may not know all the answers but I will find out what I don’t know so I can put your fears to rest.” As children get older you can ask, what do you know about this? How do you feel about this? To open up the conversation.
  • Let them know about the helpers who are working to keep everyone safe and assure them that the man responsible for the deadly act is unable to hurt anyone anymore because he is dead. Tell them; “those in law enforcement and the medical community are doing everything they can to keep us safe and take care of anyone who was hurt. Do you know how Aunt Karen takes care of people in the hospital since she’s a nurse? That’s what the people out there are doing too. Lots of people are helping.”
  • Allow them to be the helpers too– ask, how can we help someone who is suffering today? How might we help the kids who are dealing with these strategies. Something therapeutic for anyone of any age is drawing pictures and writing letters to those in Las Vegas who are suffering. They can write thank you notes to law enforcement and medical staff or raise money for a charity. As an adult, you can give blood and talk to your children about why you are doing it.

Read more

How to Talk to Kids about the Barcelona Terror Attack: Tips & Scripts Included

credit: CBS

Just as we are trying to make sense of the loss, heartache and anger of what happened in Charlottesville, we are faced, again, with another act of terror in Barcelona. While adults are reeling, our children will likely have concerns and questions about what has just occurred. Here are some tips, conversation starters and scripts you can use to help talk about this terrible incident with your kids:

  1. Be their first source: I know this is hard as we don’t always know what to say to our children when scary things happen. But information is best coming from a trusted source—and that trusted source is you. You know your child and know how to be sensitive to the way your child needs to receive it. These details may have already started to leak out so it’s best not to wait. While you can limit gruesome details based on age and maturity, you can provide the information your children need to know to feel cared for and safe.

    You can say: “Someone who has hate in their heart and is angry and confused about what is right, kind and fair, hurt a lot of people in Barcelona, a city in Spain, which is in Europe. A lot of people are very upset right now but the people in charge are doing everything they can to keep people safe.”

    2. Let them know about the helpers: When situations seem unsure, children need to know that the grown-ups are helping those in need. Kids become very nervous that they will be left on their own if something bad happens and some anxiety can be alleviated by being sure that someone is in charge of safety.

    You can say: “Authorities are working to keep people safe. The police have already found the person who caused the harm to the people in Barcelona. Medical staff, like doctors and nurses, are helping those who have been hurt.”

    3. Let them know they are safe and these incidents are very rare: While tragedy recently struck Charlottesville, this does not mean that fatal acts of hate and terror are happening all the time. What are the kids thinking right now? They are thinking about their own safety and the safety of those they love. My daughter asked, when we spoke about the sad and angering act of hate in Charlottesville, “Is this going to happen here?”

    You can say: “These kinds of incidents are extremely rare, my love, and the people in charge are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe.”

    4. Stay calm: You are human. It is normal and natural to feel angry, sad, shocked or even numb when senseless acts occur. As a parent, teacher or child mentor, being “there” for young people sometimes means keeping our emotions in check so that we don’t overwhelm or alarm our children. While you certainly don’t need to be stoic or aloof—and you can talk about your sad or angry feelings when terror attacks happen—the full gravity of your feelings should be reserved for other trusted adults in your life.

    You can say: “It makes me feel very sad and angry when I hear that someone who has hate in their heart hurts other people. It’s not right or fair. How do YOU feel about it?”

    5. Expect that questions may not all come out at once: Children often need time to process information—especially information that is upsetting, confusing or surprising. It’s normal for children to have questions about sensitive topics over time. It may go on for weeks—a question here and a question there—never lasting more than a minute or two. Other times you may have a few longer conversations. Children process tough topics in different ways. It’s OK if you don’t know the answer— you can always tell your children that you will look up the answer and get back to them when you know. It’s also completely OK to say “I don’t know” when the answer is not answerable. Be a source of comfort—and know when your child has had enough.

    You can say: “I’m happy to answer your questions. What do you want to know?” And “I’m really not sure of the answer to that question right now, but I will look it up and get you the answer.” Or “I wish I knew for sure that this kind of thing will never happen again. What I do know is that the person who did it was captured by the authorities and can no longer hurt anyone.”

    6. Remain open to dealing with fears and concerns: Don’t be surprised if fears and concerns seem illogical, disconnected and come at unusual times. You might be driving your child to school on a beautiful sunny day when your child pops a question about something that happened days or even weeks before. Your child may develop a temporary fear of the dark, loud noises, people in uniform or otherwise while trying to regain their footing. Be patient and open to talking, reassuring and even just “there” during these tough times. This is tough for everyone.

    You can say: “Is there something I can do to help you feel safer or more secure?” or “Would you like advice or would you prefer that I just listen?”

    7. Know that unusual conduct or feelings may arise: Sometimes frightening and unexpected news can make children act out different ways. These behaviors may surprise you. Some kids may become clingy or hyper while others may become withdrawn and quiet. Some may sleep more while others may sleep less. Still others may eat more while others may report that they aren’t hungry.

    You can say: “Would you like to talk about your feelings? I am always here to listen. Your emotions are all OK and what you feeling is normal when bad things happen. You can feel any way that you do

    8. Don’t stop living: It is natural to want to protect your family when bad things happen. You may be wishing that you want to construct a bubble for everyone you love to live in just to keep potential dangers out. I get it. I’m a parent too. But living in fear is no way to live. Instead, enjoy everyday. Love deeper. Hug longer. And remember, there is more good than bad in the world.

    You can say: “I am so grateful for you. And I’m thankful for all those who work around the clock to keep us safe and healthy. Would you like to talk about why you are grateful today? What have you been able to do today because there are wonderful people who help us stay safe?”

    (9) Focus on the good: And don’t forget to remind your children of the good in the world. There are everyday people doing wonderful things. We don’t always hear about them, but there are. There are people who are solving medical mysteries and there are people who are building schools and helping children in need.

    You can say: “There are kids, just like you, helping the new child at school, talking to the scared friend on the bus, standing up to someone who is being unkind and giving a hug to a friend who is feeling sad. You do many kind things to help others. What have you done to help someone today? How did someone else help you?”

    (10) Allow them to contribute: People often remind kids to look for the helpers in this world—and that is a wonderful strategy. But just as important is to allow your child to find a way to be helpful. Instead of blocking out the world, let us teach our children to become the kind of people that make this world a better place. Children thrive when they feel that they can contribute to their family, their community, their country and beyond. Encourage them to do that. They may even be able to help the people of Barcelona as the charities who are providing assistance emerge. By doing so, you will teach them that there is a lot more good in this world than there is evil. And, yes, they are a big part of that good. In other words, they don’t just need to look for the helpers, they can become them.

    You can say; “How can we be helpful to someone who is suffering today?”

    This is a tough time but let’s keep the path of communication open. It is a source of connection and love—and lord knows we need more of that right now.

Thinking of Barcelona and all those who are grieving losses due to hate or terror attacks right now.

xo

10 Powerful Conversation Starters: How to Talk to Kids about Resilience

From bullying to disasters to the scary happenings we see on the news, raising kids in today’s world can be challenging. It’s easy to see why teachers, parents, coaches and other adults in the lives of children want to shield children from all hardships. Of course, this isn’t possible and over-protecting children and keeping them from experiencing failure isn’t the answer to adversity. What is? Teaching resilience.

Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from stress, challenge, trauma, failure and adversity. We see it when our kids pick themselves up after they fall and try again. We see it when they study harder, try out again, make the 3rd attempt, and solve problems on their own even though they could take the easy way out. I like to explain it this way:

Think about an elastic band. You can stretch it out, twist it, pull it– and what happens when you stop stretching it? It bounces back. Just like an elastic band, resilience allows us to “bounce back” when we are pulled, stretched, twisted and challenged. Now think of a rubber ball. What happens when you throw that rubber ball down at the floor or at the wall? It bounces back! Just like an elastic band or a rubber ball, resilience allows us to “bounce back” when life gets tough or challenging. We can be like that elastic band or that rubber ball! When life pushes us down…we bounce back up!

Feel free to use the 10 Conversation Starters to help you talk about resilience with the children in your life. The Powerful Word of the Month is resilience for July– but this is a word we can use all year long to help us through anything that pulls us out of our comfort zone or challenges our emotions, frustration level or even physical being. I’m thinking of you every step of the way- and come up onto Facebook so we can discuss all kinds of great topics on Facebook or request to be in the brand new; How to Talk to Kids about Anything private group!

Thank you for being part of our family!

The Seven Silencing Reasons We Don’t Have Tough Conversations with Our Kids

Sex. Death. Porn. Divorce. Conversations like these often make us squirm in our seats– even before we have these talks with our kids. So what happens? We wait. Sometimes we don’t have them at all.

Why don’t we have these tough conversations?

  1. We don’t know what to say: These conversations don’t exactly role off the tongue. Where do we start? How do we explain it? We feel awkward and out-of-our element. Even if we speak with others for a living, conversations with our favorite little humans can challenge us in ways that co-workers, students or someone else’s kids never could.
  2. They are embarrassing, uncomfortable or emotionally charged: Discussions about sex, divorce or death aren’t easy. There is a lot of emotion behind them that come from our own hang-ups, experiences and hot-buttons– sometimes on both sides. It doesn’t help that the more awkward and emotional we feel about them, the more our children tend to react to and absorb those emotions.
  3. We are afraid that we won’t know all the answers: What if our kids ask us something that we simply don’t know how to answer? We worry about feeling unprepared.
  4. These conversations can feel taboo: Are we supposed to be talking about this stuff? After all, in many cases, our parents didn’t talk about it with us. These are words we usually don’t say or speak about in hushed tones– or at least only with our closest friends.
  5. We feel our kids won’t want to discuss them with us: We may think that the kids would rather do something– anything- rather than talking to us about these tough topics. They might think they are weird, embarrassing or totally off-the-charts gross.
  6. We don’t know when to have them: Are our children really old enough to hear this? How do I say it in a way that won’t scare them? How do I say it so that they understand? When do I start these conversations with my kids?
  7. We assume they already know: This is the ultimate way to bury our heads in the sand. Maybe they already know! Someone must have spoken to them about this stuff– maybe even you- and they are all set now because that talk is crossed off your list.

While there are countless reasons why we don’t want to have these key conversations with our kids– there are just as many reasons why we must. Our kids need us to be open and honest with them so that they know they can trust us, ask us anything, come to us when the sh*t hits the fan or when life gets confusing or uncomfortable. It’s time to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable– let’s have these talks and let’s have them often. Today is as good of a day as any.

Need help? We’ve got the tips and scripts you might need right now- I want to help! With the top experts in their area, my podcast, How to Talk to Kids about Anything, gives tips, scripts, stories and steps to make even the toughest conversations easier. More are added each week. And there is no topic we won’t cover.

We’re here– and you’ve got this!

10 Powerful Conversation Starters to Talk to Kids about Sportsmanship

Sportsmanship, showing respect for the rules, the participants and the spirit of competition, is an important powerful word all kids (and adults) must learn when competing with others. Given that May is Sportsmanship month for Powerful Words Character Development, this is a great time to discuss sportsmanship with your children.

How can you start the conversation about sportsmanship with your kids? Here are 10 Conversation Starters that will allow you to teach your kids about sportsmanship– as well as learn what they think, feel and believe about good sportsmanship.

Topics may range from what a good sport or bad sport means to how we can be gracious winners and refrain from being sore losers, to specific issues of cheating, boasting and failing in competition. What are some ways that your children can show great sportsmanship? Why do we need to follow these respect-based rules anyway? How can our actions at a game impact the spirit of competition?

We have all seen terrible sportsmanship- from what we see on TV to what we see on the fields right in front of our faces. What have you seen? What actions do you think are okay and which actions do you feel need to be addressed? When we stay silent, it could look like we approve. And interestingly, your kids may have a great deal to say about what they have seen and heard– it will be great to get their perspective.

What do your kids think? Do you see good or bad sportsmanship around you– and how can your family contribute to the positive end of sportsmanship? Hopefully you are talking about this topic in classes this month with all the scripts and tips from Powerful Words on sportsmanship- we’d love to hear about it!

Feel free to share- and discuss!

Warm regards,

PS A podcast on Sportsmanship will be coming out in the next month or so. Keep a look out and subscribe– so you can be the first to know! You can look right here on the podcast page or subscribe on iTunes (or whatever podcast site you listen through) and I know- you’ll love it!

Double the Fun! Two New Podcasts Out on Empathy and the Death of a Pet

Good morning! Aren’t Tuesdays fun?

For one thing, they aren’t Mondays—and for another, another episode of How to Talk to Kids about Anything is available! And you know what? THIS Tuesday is double the fun because we have TWO episodes available for you as an extra bit of love for you this week.

***First, we have How to Talk to Kids about Empathy and Entitlement by the amazing best-selling author & Today Show contributor, Dr. Michele Borba.

Based on her new book (softcover version out TODAY!), UnSelfie, Michele provides us with outstanding tips and scripts to raise empathetic, caring kids in an “all-about me” world. Michele has traveled widely and studied this topic for years—you don’t want to miss it!

“Once you realize you can nurture empathy, that our children are hardwired for it, you’ll look for dozens of just simple little daily moments to weave it in, take it up, and let your children know it matters. That’s how we produce a better generation of kids: A group of children who are unselfies, who think we, not me.” ~Dr. Michele Borba

***And, as a bonus, for anyone who has a pet or is suffering from pet-loss grief, we have How to Talk to Kids about the Death of a Pet. Best-selling author, Wendy Van de Poll, provides tips to help adults know how to help a child grieve when a pet dies as well as what to say to a child when a pet is sick and death is imminent. She also provides ways to help support a child in moving forward to engage in positive memories to help heal the grief.

The relationships that children have with animals are purely magical.” ~Wendy Van de Poll

You can get any of the podcasts on my website as well as on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcast delivery sites.

I can’t wait to hear what you think! And if you love this episode like I did, it would be so awesome to have you subscribe, rate and review it on iTunes so that others learn all about it. And please, feel free to share it!

Happy Listening!

How to Talk to Kids about Money: Interview with Neale Godfrey

How do we talk to kids about money and financial responsibility? Last week on How to Talk to Kids about Anything, we spoke to Neale Godfrey, author of 27 books that empower families and kids to take charge of their financial lives. (Access through iTunes, my website, or Stitcher, etc).

This episode focuses on talking to kids (and teaching kids) about money. Why is this important? Raising children who understand money is vital to their future financial health, independence and future fiscal behavior! Children and teens need to learn the value of money as well as how to budget, plan, earn, save, invest and give to causes and charities that mean something to them. Money management is a life skill that all children must learn to become responsible, successful adults.

“If you don’t teach your kids about money, their friends will do it…and they’re all bozos!” ~Neale Godfrey

I can’t wait to hear what you think and how you are going to apply it at home or in your school! And if you love this episode like I did, it would be so awesome to have you subscribe, rate and review it on iTunes so that others learn all about it. And please, feel free to share it!

Happy Listening!